Nachos Get a New Summer Look With Barbecue Chicken and Corn

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[Photographs: Emily and Matt Clifton]

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We don't know about you, but our spring has been something of a damp squib. It rained pretty solidly throughout April and May and while the garden is now as lush as it's been in years, we haven't had much of a chance to get out there and enjoy it. Now, at last, the heat is on, the tees and shorts are in rotation, and we're ready to get into the swing of the season.

So we wanted to celebrate with a dish that represented all the things we love about summer eating: the flavors of grilling and barbecue, the conviviality of outdoor parties with shareable foods, and delicious fresh seasonal produce like corn and tomatoes. And so our thoughts, as they often do, turned to nachos.

There's nothing fundamentally seasonal about nachos—the typical toppings of beans and cheese are, after all, available year-round. But those heavy ingredients can load down a dish that works just as well with lighter summer fare. For this recipe, we decided to keep the cheese (in two forms!), but we removed the beans and replaced them with a bright mixture of summer produce: grilled corn, juicy tomatoes, diced onion, sliced jalapeños, and pickled radishes. Some shredded chicken tossed in a homemade bourbon-spiked barbecue sauce rounds the whole thing out.

As for the process, the first thing we do is pickle the sliced radishes (any standard red radish is fine, no need to spend extra money on the fancy varieties), which takes at least a few hours. While it's an extra step, it's easy to do in advance and adds a bright, vinegary bite—and, of course, color—to the assembly. If you can, make them a day or two ahead to really maximize the tang!

You can also make the barbecue sauce ahead of time, if you prefer. At this stage of the year, we like to slather it on pretty much anything we can get away with—it has sweetness and depth from brown sugar and molasses, enough savory flavors to provide balance, and the bourbon ends up adding a smoky aroma once all its alcohol is cooked out. We toss the sauce with shredded, cooked chicken meat (you can buy a rotisserie bird for this, or roast or grill your own). 

Nachos wouldn't be nachos without cheese—we're not completely throwing out the rulebook—so we use Kenji's recipe for cheese sauce which uses evaporated milk to help sharp cheddar melt into a silky smooth liquid. But wait, there's more! We're also adding grated Monterey Jack in two layers to make sure we get that essential "gooey pull," without which you may as well pack up and go home.

Finally, the chips, which are the backbone of the nachos. It's tempting to use store-bought chips here, as they're a major time- and effort-saver. But unless you have access to some really good sturdy ones, we think it's better to fry them yourself. You should make them pretty close to assembly, since you want them to be ultra-fresh (there is nothing worse in this world than a stale nacho).

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Once all your elements are ready, layer the chips, sauced chicken, cheese sauce, grated cheese, and grilled corn in a baking dish or baking sheet and bake until the cheese is melted and gooey and the chips are slightly browned on top. Add the fresh tomatoes, red onion, avocado, and pickled radishes, drizzle with crema, and serve, preferably in the sunshine. We're happy to have brightened up your nachos!